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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 14:20 GMT
Clinton sets limits on religion in schools

The Clintons at a Christmas event in Washington The Clintons at a Christmas event in Washington

President Clinton has sought to defuse the growing number of disputes over the place of religion in state education in the United States.

Announcing guidelines on religion in schools, the president called for a balance between the right to private religious faith and the principle of secular state education.

This was "a complex and emotional matter for many Americans", said President Clinton, reasserting the ban on the promotion of religion in state schools, while defending the individual's right to religious beliefs.

"Common sense says that faith and faith-based organisations from all religious backgrounds can play an important role in helping children to reach their fullest potential,'' said President Clinton.

But the guidelines emphasise the separation of church and state, reiterating that schools "may not endorse or favour religious activity or doctrine, coerce participation in religious activity or seek to impose their religious beliefs on impressionable children".

Disputes over the extent to which Christianity should be part of the school day have roused strong feelings in some states - with prolonged rows over the displaying of the Ten Commandments, the teaching of the Creation story and the public saying of prayers before sports events.

A school authority in California only took down the Ten Commandments from schools earlier this year when under threat of legal action from a civil rights' organisation.

President Clinton has sought to steer a middle course, saying that students must not be made to feel "uncomfortable because they come from different religious traditions, while helping students make the most of their God-given talents".

The president also praised the influence of religious belief - saying that "children involved in religious activities are less likely to use drugs. Experience tells us they're more likely to stay out of trouble".

The latest set of guidelines, the third on the subject during the Clinton administration, repeat the findings of the Supreme Court that state-funded schools should not promote religion.

But children are free to present their own religious beliefs in areas such as artwork or in written homework.

"I have never believed the constitution required our schools to be religion-free zones, or that our children must check their faith at the schoolhouse door,''

The president also asserted the right of students to "pray privately and individually in school, the right to say grace at lunch, the right to meet in religious groups on school grounds and to use school facilities just like any other groups do"
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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Education
Ten Commandments schools back down
15 Nov 99 |  Education
Court to rule on student prayers
17 Dec 99 |  Education
Creation story still banned in class

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